One baby slept through the visit from Santa Claus last week. Two 2-year-olds cried in fright. But most of the 60 children at the Carroll Child Care Center in Westminster were curious about the big man dressed in head-to-toe red with a snowy white beard and friendly smile.
They approached, some eager, some hesitant, to touch his red velvet suit and white fake-fur trim, shiny black patent-leather belt and jingle bells dangling from his wrist. One child tugged at Mrs. Claus, wanting a hug, which was given enthusiastically.
It was the second year in a row that Santa and Mrs. Claus - also known as New Windsor Mayor Sam Pierce and his wife, Doris Ann - had made their trek to the center to hand out books, toys and stockings to the children The couple have been playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus for 35 years, they said.
"This is so important for these families who are financially needy, because some can't afford Christmas, so they just skip it," said the center's executive director, JoAnn Goldberger.
Two-thirds of the center's children are from low-income families that pay fees according to what they can afford. The center is a nonprofit United Way agency, allowing it to offer affordable child care, Goldberger said.
The children's gifts came from New Windsor State Bank, via United Way of Carroll County, and Northrop Grumman Corp. employees in Sykesville and Linthicum, Goldberger said. Representatives from the bank accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Claus to the center.
After spending a United Way Day of Caring at the center reading to the children in September, bank employees wanted to do more, Goldberger said. They collected books and wrapped them for Santa to distribute.
"We like to give each child an educational gift, but we can't afford to buy them ourselves," Goldberger said. "I gave the bank a list, and they had a drive to collect new books for each age group."
Northrop Grumman employees adopted 36 families and provided overstuffed stockings for each of the center's children, Goldberger said.
"They provide a Christmas for families who otherwise wouldn't have one," she said.
Santa visited every classroom in the center, starting with the four infants, the youngest of whom is 6 weeks old. The children in the infant two class, for babies able to pull themselves up and pretoddlers, stared wide-eyed at Santa.
Carmaya Bowman, 15 months old, stared silently at Santa as she accepted a baby doll and book. She appeared to be equally fascinated by seeing her picture on a photographer's camera.
Santa told another baby, "You have cookie on your mouth."
In the toddler class, Maddie Bryant, 22 months, tried to give her book back to Santa, then shyly stood by a teacher until Santa left. Coached to say "thank you," she joined the other youngsters in a farewell chorus.
Excited 2-year-olds crowded eagerly around Santa and ripped open their presents exuberantly.
For the 3-year-old class of 18 children, Santa sat in a chair and gathered the youngsters around him. He called out the children's names and sat them on his lap, asking whether they had been good (of course, they had) and what they wanted for Christmas.
Before entering the 4-year-old class, Santa hollered "Ho, ho, ho," then, when he had everybody's attention, went in to take more requests and hand out presents.
Santa's longest list of the day came from Tyrell Jones, 4, who asked for Thunder the dinosaur, Spider Man and a Noah's Ark set.
"You must have been a pretty good boy," Santa told him.
Tyrell's stocking included a Spiderman coloring book and underwear.
When one child asked where Rudolph was, Santa explained, "I had to leave him home to rest up for Christmas Eve."
Santa was pleased with the children's requests. "It's amazing how many asked for books," he said after visiting all of the classes.
"It's because they've been through the drill before," said Bob Miller, a vice president at New Windsor State Bank who had spent the Day of Caring reading to the 3-year-old class.
"I think they love to be read to," Miller said. "They crawl right up in your lap, and they just want to be read to. It's such a little thing to them, but it's such a big thing to us."